If you need a hero today, I have one for you

Friday, November 25, 2016

So, how's your day going so far? Are you hungry? Have you been shopping yet? Are the in-laws still here?

I will be presenting a column about giving thanks today. Notice, I didn't say "about Thanksgiving." I said, "about giving thanks." Big difference, my friends.

Truth be told, I don't think anything original about Thanksgiving has been written since shortly after the big war. You know. The Civil War. Essays about Thanksgiving all tend to remind me of fruitcake and the theory that there is, in fact, only one fruitcake in existence, and it just keeps being passed around year after year after year.

Today I'm going to tell you a story. You know I like to tell stories. Some of them are true. This is one of them. And it's about giving thanks.

This is the story of the Most Amazing Person I've Ever Known. It's a pretty good story, so hang in there. Please.

I first met Audrey Stubbart in the fall of 1977 when I became executive editor of The Examiner in Independence, Missouri. Audrey was a proofreader in the newsroom. And she was 82 years old.

Here's what you need to know about Audrey. She was born in 1895 in Nebraska. At 15 she married her husband of 54 years, John, and they moved to Wyoming to homestead. The couple had two daughters and three sons, built a log house and survived the flu pandemic of 1918-1920. Audrey also taught school for a while.

In 1944, the Stubbarts moved to Independence. One of the main reasons was to be near the home of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, usually called the RLDS church, now known as the Community of Christ, and not to be confused with the Mormon branch that went to Utah.

Audrey was not a casual RLDS member. She was devoted to the church, sang in the choir, taught Sunday school -- and would argue religion with anyone at the drop of a hat.

Because of her love of words and grammar, and because of her teaching background, Audrey was hired as a proofreader at Herald House, the RLDS publishing arm. She worked there until 1961 when she retired, which was compulsory at age 65. That same year she became a proofreader for The Examiner.

When I knew Audrey, in her 80s, she was one of those ageless human beings who defied attempts to put them into groups with labels like octogenarian. Her mind was sharp. So was her tongue, on rare occasions.

She once got into a lunchtime argument (I witnessed this) with Bob Snair, the circulation director of The Examiner, over the differences in their religious convictions. Bob was a member of the Unity Church, which espouses, among other things, that love and positive thinking can resolve any problem.

During this discussion, both Audrey and Bob got a bit heated. Before they came to actual blows, they both stopped talking and glared at each other. Finally, Audrey broke the silence. "I guess I should be more tolerant of what you believe, Bob. After all, I think Joseph Smith knew what he was talking about." Smith was the founder of the Mormon movement.

Audrey and Bob remained good friends.

I left The Examiner for another newspaper owned by the same company, but Audrey remained as proofreader, a position she held -- pay attention -- until she was 105 years old. At 103 she was designated by the Department of Labor as the oldest full-time employee in the United States. She retired, at 105, three months before her death.

But that's not the story I want to tell. Here is a story Audrey told me.

One day, during lunch (Audrey ate mostly raw vegetables) she mentioned, in passing, something about a bum who tried to break into her house. Pressed, she gave up the details.

Audrey never learned to drive a car. She relied on family members, newspaper colleagues and taxis to get to and from work, keep appointments and do her shopping. She lived alone in a modest house in Independence.

One night she went home just as it was getting dark. She saw a man trying to break in through the back door. In no uncertain terms she told the man not to damage the door. The man told Audrey he was hungry. Audrey told the man to come inside and she would give him food.

While Audrey bustled around the kitchen fixing a quick meal, the man sat at the table, watching. At some point he reached in his pocket and pulled out a … .

Now, dear reader, don't let your mind go too wild. This story has a happy ending.

The man reached in his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. Wrong move, buddy.

He struck a match to light the cigarette and was immediately smacked in the head by a broom, wielded by a furious Audrey.

"Mister, I let you in because you said you were hungry, but you will not smoke in my house!"

And she proceeded to whack the man with the broom until the man fled out the back door.

I imagine -- just imagine -- this was the same vinegar Audrey had when she married at 15, homesteaded in Wyoming, raised five children, built a log house, taught in one-room schools, nursed family and neighbors through deadly bouts of flu with no medication and wound up being a newspaper proofreader for 39 years until she decided to take it easy at 105.

For me, Audrey's incredible life is a good reason to give thanks. I give thanks for the example of individuals like Audrey who don't set limits. They explore boundaries and push through them with determination and a sense of devotion.

Anyone who knew Audrey is a better person because of it. I give thanks that I was one of them.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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